Why Donald Trump's donation to Greg Abbott probably isn't cronyism

Social media and the blogosphere got a little frenzied after a report surfaced yesterday pointing out Donald Trump gave Texas Governor Greg Abbott a $35K donation to his campaign after the state ended its investigation into Trump University. TWC News certainly made it look really bad for Abbott:


Texas Gov. Greg Abbott received a $35,000 donation to his successful gubernatorial campaign from Donald Trump. This after a Texas probe into Trump University was dropped in 2010, according to the Associated Press.
The AP reported that Abbott, a Republican, was serving as Texas Attorney General at the time, and opened a civil investigation of “possibly deceptive trade practices” into Trump University, but quietly dropped it when the organization agreed to end its operations in Texas.

Trump subsequently donated $35,000 to Abbott’s successful gubernatorial campaign, according to records obtained by the AP.

A former employee of Abbott’s also expressed his belief Trump’s donation ended the investigation. Via The Dallas Morning News:

“The decision not to sue him was political,” John Owens told The Dallas Morning News.“Had [Trump] not been involved in politics to the extent he was at the time, we would have gotten approval. Had he been just some other scam artist, we would have sued him.”

On the surface, this reeks of cronyism. It appears Trump is paying back Abbott for not trying to put Trump U out of business. It seems to be a lot like the $25K Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi got in 2013 for not going after Trump U. Even I thought it was, especially after Abbott’s Office gave a rather terse reply to questions about the situation (the statement can be forgiven because Texas is mostly underwater right now). It seems extremely out of character for a governor who has made ethics reform a big deal and recently told state agencies to stop using “leave” as a form of severance pay.


Turns out, Abbott’s reputation may not be a sullied as it seems. Austin American-Statesman has a pretty good round up of what happened in 2010 between Trump U and Texas (emphasis mine):

The six-month investigation by the attorney general’s office, from January to June 2010, into whether Trump U violated the Texas Deceptive Trade Practices and Consumer Protection Act, is detailed in documents that a Democratic super PAC, American Bridge 21st Century, received through a public records request. American Bridge provided the documents to USA Today, which first published a story Thursday on the investigation. The American-Statesman subsequently obtained the documents.

Trump, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, agreed to suspend Trump U’s workshops in Texas, and they never resumed in the state…

Trump contributed $25,000 to Abbott in 2013 and an additional $10,000 in 2014, though he didn’t contribute to Abbott’s re-election campaign for attorney general in 2010, when the investigation was happening.

The timeline is really important here. The Bondi donation came a few months after the Trump U investigation ended, while the Abbott donations came three years after Trump U left Texas. Trump didn’t really start getting involved in national politics until 2011 (his first video actually suggested the U.S. get involved in Syria), even though he’d obviously considered presidential runs in 1988 and 2000. So the 2013 and 2014 donations to Abbott appear to more be along the lines of, “Oh, you’re a Republican running for office? Here, enjoy.” That’s what David Saleh Rauf from San Antonio Express-News believes:


Another valid point on the issue comes from Texas Monthly senior editor Erica Grieder:

Bondi endorsed Trump in March, over Marco Rubio. Abbott didn’t even mention Trump at the Texas GOP Convention, even though he’s said in the past he’d vote for Trump if he were the nominee. Not only that, but a former Texas deputy attorney general also released a statement on Friday saying it was his decision to not go after Trump U, and he made it without talking to Abbott. Here’s part of David Morales’ statement via The Dallas Morning News:

During that investigation and following subsequent demands for documents, Trump University agreed to temporarily suspended its Texas operations. By May 2010, Trump University had agreed to permanently suspend of all operations in Texas. That agreement to permanently and immediately leave Texas was, in my opinion, the most important element of resolving this investigation. It ensured that no further Texas citizens would be exposed to the company and it did not preclude those consumers who felt they wanted a refund to demand it from Trump University or in court. At that time, I recall that the Office of the Attorney General had no written complaints from any of the consumers who participated in Trump University.

The articles published on June 2 concerning this investigation contain conjecture as to who may have been involved in the decision on this matter. To be clear, I did not discuss this matter with General Abbott or Daniel Hodge (who was incorrectly referenced as “second-in-command” at the time) prior to making my decision. Any suggestion otherwise is false. After the fact, I would have informed the Attorney General and First Assistant Attorney General Andrew Weber as a matter of course regarding this decision, along with dozens of others I would have made that week. I am proud that our Consumer Protection Division was able to get Trump University to immediately and permanently leave the State of Texas. Their good work served our Texas consumers well.


So this really doesn’t appear to be a case of cronyism (not yet at least). What this appears to be a case of is the Associated Press, TWC News, and other outlets trying to paint a picture of Abbott being on Trump’s payroll, when that may not be true at all. It certainly could end up being true (because all politicians are human and, thus, fallible), but the stench of cronyism isn’t as strong as it was when details of the story first came out.

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David Strom 3:21 PM on December 01, 2023